WHEN ARTIST Tom Miller set out to paint a mural in the heart of the community of Oliver, he got two pieces of advice -- one from the adults and one from the kids.
"The community leaders said, 'We want something of a positive nature, something to address our concerns about the African-American male as an endangered species,'" recalls the artist.
The kids, expressing the ennui of being surrounded by the city's same old promotional theme, said, "Just don't say 'The city that reads.'"
Miller came up with a colorful compromise that apparently satisfied everyone, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who yesterday led a ceremony dedicating the mural on the side of a home at the corner of North Avenue and Harford Road.
The artist's work depicts a black man in an exotic setting reading a book. On the pages of the book is an African proverb: "However far the stream flows it never forgets its source."
Miller, who more commonly uses pieces of furniture as his canvas, said of his three-story-high painting: "It is a setting quite different from Baltimore. I wanted to say a person could travel and expand his mind through reading."
And there's the more subtle message meant to inspire young men, he says, "that you can't be a strong African American male -- or any male for that matter -- without being literate."
Miller was chosen to paint the mural by the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, which holds an annual contest to contract for murals to enhance city neighborhoods. A $2,500 grant came with the artist's commission.
Miller, 46, says he completed the mural in about a month, amid demands of an even larger project -- a one-man show due to open at the Steven Scott Gallery Jan. 2.
The show will include about a dozen paintings on furniture, the usual backdrop for Miller's often African-inspired paintings. The lifelong Baltimore resident has exhibited at several Charles Street galleries as well as the Baltimore Museum of Art.
As for the mural, Miller says, "I just wanted to do something different and something that a lot of people would see. I think it's a nice addition to the black community and to the city at large."